Cities seek opt-out waivers

May­ors want ‘No Child’ re­lief even if their state de­clines

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Cal­i­for­nia has de­cided against ap­ply­ing for a waiver from No Child Left Be­hind, but lo­cal of­fi­cials in the Golden State still want re­lief from the widely ma­ligned, decade-old law.

Los An­ge­les Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa on Fri­day called on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to ex­pand its opt-out pro­gram to the in­di­vid­ual dis­trict level, say­ing free­dom from the act’s many man­dates would ac­cel­er­ate re­form.

“My hope is that . . . we also get waivers from NCLB, so we can in­no­vate and do things that the states are al­lowed to do,” said Mr. Vil­laraigosa, speak­ing at an ed­u­ca­tion round­table at D.C.’S Amer­i­can Univer­sity.

As mayor, the sec­ond-term Demo­crat is re­spon­si­ble for the 919,000-stu­dent Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School Dis­trict, the sec­ond-largest sys­tem in the na­tion be­hind New York. He was joined at the event by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can.

The dis­cus­sion cen­tered on re­form at the ground level in Amer­ica’s three largest cities — re­forms in­sti­tuted in spite of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s heavy­handed role in ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy since NCLB went into ef­fect in 2002.

Pres­i­dent Obama and Mr. Dun­can since tak­ing of­fice three years ago have called on Congress to scrap the law, but deep par­ti­san di­vides and the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year have made a grand com­pro­mise un­likely.

With con­gres­sional ac­tion stalled, the ad­min­is­tra­tion last year un­veiled its “Plan B” — a way out from NCLB’S “ad­e­quate yearly progress” bench­marks and other pro­vi­sions in ex­change for de­tailed re­form plans, which must be ap­proved by the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

Eleven states have been granted waivers, and an­other 26 states and the Dis­trict ap­plied last week. Some in Congress have crit­i­cized the plan and ac­cused the ad­min­is­tra­tion of at­tempt­ing to im­pose its own de facto ver­sion of ed­u­ca­tion re­form through waivers.

The ini­tia­tive, along with oth­ers in the ed­u­ca­tion realm and be­yond, has been part of Mr. Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” ap­proach of en­act­ing ma­jor pol­icy changes with­out Congress.

Mr. Dun­can, who led Chicago’s public schools be­fore join­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion, didn’t di­rectly ad­dress Mr. Vil­laraigosa’s sug­ges­tion that the waiver sys­tem be ex­panded to in­di­vid­ual cities and dis­tricts. He did say, how­ever, that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s next round of the pop­u­lar com­pet­i­tive grant pro­gram Race to the Top will be con­ducted at the city and dis­trict level.

Much like the waiver pro­gram, Race to the Top of­fered tax­payer-funded awards to states that de­vel­oped re­form plans, which range from bet­ter use of tech­nol­ogy to merit-pay sys­tems for teach­ers. Three rounds have been held, with two fo­cus­ing on K-12 ed­u­ca­tion at the state level, and an­other deal­ing with pre-kinder­garten school­ing.

The next round will en­able an in­di­vid­ual school sys­tem — such as those in New York City or Los An­ge­les — to by­pass their state ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers and work di­rectly with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on re­form mod­els.

“It’s go­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant change, and it’s a change long over­due and wel­comed by all of us,” Mr. Emanuel said.

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